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August 16, 2001 - Doctor Sues a Hospital For Her Dismissal

A former St. Jude Children's Research Hospital doctor filed a $12 million ($6 million in compensatory and $6 million in punitive damages) federal suit against the hospital charging that she was fired for refusing to keep quiet about patient care problems and scientific misconduct. The doctor alleged that she lost her job because she wouldn't keep quiet about problems at the hospital, including unread, misread and missed diagnostic tests. The suit also alleges that St. Jude staff played a role in her later dismissal from a job at Children's National Medical Center in Washington. She requested a jury trial.

Dr. June M. Caruso joined St. Jude in January 2000 for a one-year job as a postdoctoral research associate in the radiation oncology department's division of neuro-oncology. She was fired Aug. 11, 2000. Ms. Caruso's suit alleged discovered instances of patient neglect, scientific misconduct, and gross negligence that amounted to child abuse and neglect. Other examples cited in the suit include medication decisions, failure to have a child psychiatrist evaluate children before beginning certain medications, and an instance in which a child's parents weren't informed about possible medication side effects.

Kathleen Caldwell, Caruso's lawyer, said her client initially reported her concerns to hospital officials. She turned to state, federal and professional regulatory agencies when those officials failed to act and problems persisted, Caldwell said.

A hospital spokesman called the suit's allegations misguided and unwarranted. "We are confident the outcome will prove this suit is without merit," Jerry Chipman, St. Jude vice president of public relations, said in a statement. He declined to discuss specific charges, but he noted that patient safety remains the hospital's primary concern.

The lawsuit came more than two years after an anonymous complaint to the federal office charged with safeguarding volunteers participating in federally funded research prompted an investigation and continuing federal oversight of St. Jude's system for protecting research volunteers. Most St. Jude patients participate in research being conducted at the hospital.

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